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In order to understand the clothes the Elizabethans wore you must understand why they wore them To do this you need to know how their society worked The Elizabethan social world was based on a concept known as The Great Chain Of Being This was the idea that everyone had their own God-ordained position in society The top of the chain was God directly below God was the Queen and everyone else was below her in descending degrees of importance While this social order was beginning to break down it still held true in general People had their rigidly ordered stations in life and their clothing reflected who they were The social order is often broken into peasants middle class and nobles Peasants were the agricultural laborers and their families They usually lived their entire lives in one small village working the land owned by the nobleman of the area They had little leisure time and almost no cash Their clothing was limited and designed for practicality Middle class people were the artisans craftsmen servants and small merchants Their clothing was still practical but also reflected that they had a bit more leisure time and a bit of money to spend on clothing Servants of this class were likely to wear livery uniforms provided by their employers The wealthy middle class were the prosperous merchants the highly skilled artisans and the servants of nobles They had money to spend on clothing and they were the one social class with overriding ambition to climb the social ladder so their clothing was often very fashionable There were legal restrictions on what they could wear called Sumptuary laws Sumptuary laws set fines for people who wore clothing above their station They were usually ineffective because they added the additional status of having been able to afford to pay the sumptuary tax on the garment in question Nobles were the high status knights earls countesses etc who
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